SOME of you won’t remember much about Ian Rush. You’ll have heard stories, seen clips. You’ll know about the camera sent tumbling in the back of the Everton net, the four goals at Goodison in the Glenn Keeley derby. You might even have commemorated it in song. You’ll be aware of the records. You’ll know the legend. But that may be as far as it goes.
For anyone under 30, the memories will be hazy.
But, fear not. I have come to fill in the blanks. To assure you that the stories are true and to wallow in the warm glow of unfettered nostalgia. And to take you to back to Anfield on this day in 1983, when Ian Rush was touched by the hand of the gods.
Rush scored 47 goals for Liverpool in 1983/84.
That’s the kind of ridiculous total you associate with the likes of Messi or Ronaldo in recent seasons — a number that seems so vast, so unlikely, that it becomes difficult to fully comprehend within football’s usual context.
Of course, he was playing in an extraordinary team. One which, I would suggest, possessed a larger proportion of genuinely world-class performers than any other in our history. Dalglish, Souness, Hansen, Lawrenson. And Rush. Try stopping them. All the best.
Liverpool’s number 9 was phenomenal. Thin as a rake, sharp as a tack. He displayed the sort of anticipation and composure that elevates a player above the level of his peers, always in the right place, always first to react, always the difference. He operated as the first line of defence, closing defenders down in the blink of an eye, occupying and terrifying entire back-fours. Jürgen Klopp would have loved him.
And he could finish. He could finish like few people who have ever played the game. There’s not exactly been a shortage of top-class goal-scorers at Anfield over the years. From Hunt to Dalglish, Fowler to Owen, Torres to Suarez to Sturridge. But I maintain I have never seen anyone quite so certain, so clinical, so accomplished in front of goal as Ian Rush in his prime.
In 1983-84, when Liverpool took the field you didn’t just hope Rush would score. You didn’t just expect him to score. You knew. It wasn’t in doubt. The only question was when. It was an exhilarating feeling.
And yet, when Liverpool faced Luton Town at home on 29th October 1983 — 33 years ago today — Rush had only scored in two of the previous 11 games. It was one of those weird, barely believable occurrences, like an extra-terrestrial sighting or Jose Mourinho’s humility. Like things had tipped slightly off-kilter and a quick shove was needed to restore the balance. Only, instead of a shove, Rush took an industrial sledgehammer and a flamethrower to the Luton defence and razed it to the ground like an angry god punishing wrong-doers.
There were no television cameras present, if you can imagine that. No Match of the Day highlights or Sunday morning analysis. But if the other 31,939 present are anything like me, they’ll still have an imprint of Ian Rush’s five goals embedded in their minds. I can barely recall much of last season but the memory of that afternoon still burns as strongly as ever. It’s what happens when you’re in the presence of genius.
He started quickly. Just 75 seconds in, he was on hand to convert after a Lee effort was blocked. Always in the right place.
Three minutes later, Souness saw a close-range header come back off the cross-bar. In an instant Rush was there, prodding the loose ball home with a minimum of fuss. Always first to react.
Five minutes gone and already on a hat-trick. Nothing could be more inevitable.
And just after the half hour it came. Nicol, all tricks and purpose, progressed down the left, before delivering a hard, flat cross, roughly at head-height. Rush, slightly ahead of the ball, twisted in the air without breaking stride, met it on the full and sent a bullet of a header past Sealey in the Luton goal.
Always the difference.
But the best was yet to come. In the pantheon of Great Lost Anfield Goals, Molby’s net-buster against Manchester United has long been the benchmark. Honourable mentions should also be given to a Phil Neal left-foot pile-driver in a Christmas demolition of Manchester City, a McMahon header from fully 60 yards against Everton in the hugely prestigious Screen Sport Super Cup Final which exploded from his forehead with the velocity of a speeding truck, and a curling Barnes free-kick on his home debut that gave a taste of what would soon become the norm.
For me, Rush’s fourth goal eclipses them all. It was a piece of stunning opportunism, split-second timing and controlled brutality. It has stuck in my head for more than 30 years but remains as vivid as when I first witnessed it.
Alan Kennedy was the instigator, dropping a long, high pass over the Luton defence from deep inside his own half. Rush read it perfectly. Accelerating through the back-line, he met the ball on the volley as it fell over his shoulder, and we watched, spellbound as it hurtled into the roof of the Kop net, the keeper motionless, defeated. A goal for the ages. A goal that defined greatness.
For good measure, a fifth was added before the final whistle. Another close-range finish made to look like the easiest thing in the world. To Ian Rush, it probably was.
You could pick numerous examples to show just good Rush was. But that day he gave arguably the most complete exhibition of the striker’s art ever seen at Anfield. It wasn’t just the fact that he found the net five times. Nor was it solely the quality and diversity of the strikes. No, the most memorable thing, the thing that lingered above all else, was that this was the first time I saw an entire defence consumed by fear.
Rush’s mere presence provoked panic, his every touch a cause of consternation and dispute in the Luton ranks. It was a ruthlessly efficient, coldly clinical demonstration.
It was Ian Rush at his best. And that, we should never forget, was better than just about anyone else.